SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) — A 30-foot granite obelisk in Barnet Park will stand in memory of Spartanburg County first responders who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
Plans for the First Responders Memorial were unveiled recently before a crowd of law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical responders and families of those who died in the line of duty. The memorial will have four sides: one with information on the park and the date of its dedication, and one side each for emergency personnel, law enforcement and firefighters killed while in service.
The obelisk will be visible from St. John Street and situated on the Star of Life, the symbol for EMS; the Maltese Cross, the firefighter symbol; and the star for law enforcement, said city of Spartanburg Fire Chief Marion Blackwell.
Organizers need to raise $150,000 for the memorial. About $50,000 — the largest gifts from Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System and the city of Greer — has been committed for the project.
"If I had the money, I'd pay for it myself," said Brian Cooper, who still fights back tears talking about his uncle, Richard Eugene Webb, a firefighter with Whitney Fire Department who was killed in 1985. Webb, 36, was struck by a car while responding to a crash on Interstate 85.
The idea swelled from plans for the county's 9/11 memorial service.
"The 9/11 Memorial in New York pays tribute to first responders and recovery workers, and that's fitting and appropriate. But we thought we needed — in our own way — to honor those who gave their lives in Spartanburg County," Blackwell said.
Organizers hope to raise enough funds to hold a groundbreaking for the memorial on Sept. 11 and have the memorial complete in the spring, Blackwell said.
"It's to honor those who seldom, if ever, get the recognition they deserve," Spartanburg Public Safety Director Tony Fisher said. "It's also to encourage those who are working to continue to work hard, but to realize that people out here appreciate what they do — it does not go unnoticed."
Spartanburg Mayor Junie White said he appreciates those who put themselves in harm's way to protect strangers, and he is confident the effort will be successful.
Renee Romberger, Spartanburg Regional vice president for community health policy and strategy, said during a service recently that she's always wondered what drives first responders to sacrifice their lives to help strangers.
Romberger first met EMS Director Jimmy Greene 12 years ago in his office, where she noticed a photograph of Greene in a frozen river, carrying a small boy.
"(Greene) had fire and determination in his eyes, and the eyes of the little boy had fear and desperation, but they also had hope because he believed he would be saved," Romberger said. "First responders don't like to talk about what they do, but I asked Jimmy what makes them so committed to give. He said, 'it's just what we do.' It's not for money or glory, but to make the world a safer place and to me, that was truly inspiring."
Romberger said Spartanburg Regional had committed $20,000 toward the project, and she spoke of the impact that the Regional One crash, which killed three crew members, had on the hospital staff and the community.
Pilot Bob Giard, 41, flight paramedic David Bacon, 31, and flight paramedic Glenda Tessnear, 42, were killed after the medical helicopter went down in a densely wooded area in Newberry County on July 13, 2004. The crew had responded to an early morning call of a pedestrian who had been struck by a car on Interstate 26.
"They just knew the patient needed help, and they responded. But as we all know now, Flight 587 didn't return," Romberger said. "It was a huge tragedy and loss, and in the dark days and weeks that followed, the love and prayers of the community got us through."
Spartanburg County Chairman Jeff Horton praised the work of the planning committee and urged similar cooperation on other projects. Horton, the father of a firefighter, said he and his wife say a prayer daily for those who wear a uniform.
"This is a reminder that we owe a debt to fallen public servants and to their loved ones," Horton said.
Spartanburg County Fire Chiefs Association President Larry Brady said his goal is not to add any more names to the memorial.
Sheriff Chuck Wright said despite dealing with tough situations each day, law enforcement, emergency personnel and firefighters show up for work with a positive attitude. He urged those in attendance to ask others to make contributions.
"This is for first responders who crawl into unstable vehicles to make sure whoever is inside is OK. For the firefighters who run into burning buildings instead of out of them," Wright said. "For law enforcement officers who see what they see every day and do what they do and won't quit. They see mayhem every day and still come to work with a positive attitude, and I'm honored to be a part."
Former Spartanburg Mayor Bill Barnet challenged the community to make the project a reality and pointed to other examples of public-private partnerships that have been successful: Barnet Park, the Chapman Cultural Center and the Johnson School of Business.
"When I became mayor, I saw firsthand what these people do on a daily basis," Barnet said. "The chemical spill on John B. White Boulevard and the remarkable hostage stand-off on South Church Street. Happily, none of those lost their lives, and I saw then everything I needed to know about what they're trying to do. ... My hope is we can reach this goal so the beautiful obelisk in the sky will say that when we go home safely and take things for granted, there are great people around us who protect us."
There are various sponsorship opportunities and more information is available on the website, www.scloddmemorial.org. A fund has been established at the Spartanburg County Foundation for contributions.